June 03, 2012
US Southern Great Plains Groundwater Gone In 30 Years?

Unsustainable farming practices will come to an end in the southern US Great Plains.

Key farming regions in the US are drawing water from underground sources at unsustainable rates, with slightly more than one-third of the southern Great Plains at risk of tapping out its sources within the next 30 years.

This is before taking into consideration risks of a megadrought.

The Ogallala Aquifer is most at risk. Farmers in western Kansas and the Texas Panhandle will eventually have to stop growing crops that require irrigation.

"Basically, irrigated agriculture in much of the southern High Plains is unsustainable," said Scanlon.

Continued population growth combined with already overdrawn natural resources makes the future of many resources look pretty grim. One problem with this sort of depletion is that it removes a buffer. Imagine the Great Plains gets hit by a large drought lasting years or even decades. It has happened before. Without a big underground buffer of water the impact will be much more severe.

Given cheap enough energy water depletion would not have to make such a big impact. With very cheap energy (fusion energy some day?) water desalinization can provide us with as much water as we need, at least in coastal regions.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 June 03 10:12 PM  Trends Resource Depletion

Al Broadman said at June 4, 2012 12:46 AM:

A Manhattan style project involving desalinization powered by wave front and solar sodium energy stations could solve this problem in a matter of years. The technology to deal with the problem is here right now and yet the will to do something about one of the largest environmental problems ( not the largest...that is nuclear power plants built on potential fault lines!) of our generation.

My nation sickens me sometimes and this is one of them. I've known about this issue since 2009 and have advocated the same solution since then. I know it would work and I've been trying to get buzz started up so it will move forward. Guess you have to be a billionaire for people to listen to you now. Education and creativity doesn't seem to mean anything atm.

pyromancer76 said at June 4, 2012 10:28 AM:

There should be no U.S. helplessness in the face of drought in our various geographical regions. We have plenty of studies from the past 10,000 years that shows the patterns that follow the naturally changing climate. In some areas warmth brings drought and cooler times more rain/snow. In others, it is the opposite. Aquifers get replenished on a cyclical basis. But this fact should not make us complacent. There is no good reason why people, farming, ranching in any area should suffer lack of water. Water can be piped south from north with a good system and it can be piped from desalination plants to the interior. What we need is serious planning for a real future.

Thanks to FuturePundit for all the important heads-up information and research.

Fat Man said at June 4, 2012 10:43 AM:

As problems go, this one is small and self solving. If the south-west runs out of irrigation water for raising certain crops, it will abandon those crops, and use the land for other purposes. Problem solved. It may cause pain in those farmers who have invested in that land or those systems, but that is the way the cookie crumbles, they assumed those risks when they got into the game.

My guess is that the real problem is with Federal agricultural subsidies. All of those problems should be solved by their immediate termination.

Al: I think your problem with your nation is your arrogant attitude.

Ronald Brak said at June 4, 2012 6:19 PM:

To prevent the aqufier being depleted, irrigators and other users need to start to paying more for the water. Provided they are willing to pay enough, the water charges can be used to artifically refresh the aquifier. Higher water prices can be introduced gradually to give farmers time to adapt. I don't know what kind of system is in place already, but here in Australia we are buying back water allocations from farmers in a somewhat feeble attempt to stop our river from flowing backwards.

PacRim Jim said at June 4, 2012 6:56 PM:

Later in this century, advanced nanotechnology will reduce the cost of seawater desalination to the extent that water will become cheap enough to irrigate the interior of Australia, and even the Sahara.
Water you worried about?

Ronald Brak said at June 4, 2012 7:40 PM:

If we had cheap nanotechnology I don't think we'd need to irrigate the Sahara. The solar panel on your roof could turn last night's poo into this morning's breakfast.

Balnor Karb said at June 6, 2012 1:50 PM:

Donald, I know for a fact that that is how Al Broadman makes his breakfast every morning.

This depletion of the aquifer gets recycled every 10 years or so. If we'd only been listening 50 years ago when it started becoming popular, we could have all died of thirst by now. But no, we keep turning on the tap and expecting water to come out. What arrogance!

Ronald Brak said at June 6, 2012 3:53 PM:

Doing nothing can work extremely well until it doesn't. Maybe in thirty years advanced technology will make the lack of water in the aquifer irrelevant. I think it's very likely the cost of dealing with the problem will be less in the future than it is now. But keeping at least some water in the aquifer will put the US in a better position if 2050 comes and it turns out food and water prices are higher than now. It's a type of insurance. Improving water management is a small cost for a rich country like the US with the posibility of a big payoff if things don't go well. But it would probably pay to sit down and work out the odds and see how they stack up to other problems. The US might be better off putting its insurance efforts elsewhere.

Joseph Hertzlinger said at June 10, 2012 7:53 PM:

We had a Manhattan Project to provide us with abundant energy. It was called the Manhattan Project.

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